Free Yoga for Veterans

free yoga veterans

Free Yoga for Veterans

Did you know that yoga has the potential to improve chronic low back pain, PTSD symptoms, and insomnia? It has been researched and is increasingly used by the VA to support veterans living with these experiences. Not to mention the general sense of well-being that can also come from practicing yoga.

Veterans likely have access to free classes and can benefit from yoga – even if they don’t suffer from back pain or PTSD.

Yoga is Vast and Varies

Yoga typically involves three primary components: breath control, meditation, and purposeful movement. Self-awareness is another important aspect.

For many, the idea of practicing yoga carries a wide range of connotations – feminine contortionists or just stretching or an overly easy exercise. The Veterans Yoga Project dispels some of these connotations: Yoga is (NOT) for Sissies!

In reality, there are many styles of yoga. Practicing the different styles of yoga can range from a near sleep state to a vigorous full-body exercise. Some varieties include:

  • Yoga Nidra
  • Restorative
  • Yin
  • Prenatal
  • Chair Yoga
  • Vinyasa Flow
  • Kundalini
  • Power Yoga
  • Ashtanga

Yoga is a lot of different things. It can be a physical and mental exercise with philosophical and spiritual components. Certain aspects of yoga have the potential to improve common health-related experiences including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • PTSD symptoms
  • TBI symptoms
  • Insomnia

RELATED: Mental Health and Resilience Resources for Veterans

VA Understands Benefits of Yoga

The health benefits of yoga tend to be most effective when used alongside other treatments. Yoga and meditation can be thought of as another tool in the wellness toolbox.

VA Medical Centers understand this concept and many utilize yoga in their healthcare services. For example, the Cincinnati VA Medical Center offers Telephone Based Mindfulness Meditation and weekly Yoga Nidra classes both in person and virtually. Similarly, the CA WRIISC VA Medical Center in California offers multiple on site, virtual, and recorded yoga and meditation classes to support veterans.

Additionally, VA Medical Centers work to increase knowledge and understanding of the benefits of yoga by conducting clinical research studies.

In 2017, a California VA found that practicing yoga twice per week reduced both pain intensity and the use of opioids among veterans with chronic low back pain. This study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

A 2018 study of post 9/11 war veterans with PTSD symptoms in Hawaii found that weekly yoga reduced the PTSD symptoms of hyperarousal, re-experiencing, and numbness/avoidance. Insomnia, depression and anxiety also decreased. This study was published in Military Medicine.

These examples provide only a tiny glimpse of the vast number of VA Medical Centers with therapeutic yoga programs and clinical studies that show the potential of yoga for improving health.

Yoga Beyond the VA

There are many programs dedicated to supporting veterans through yoga. Introduced here are just 5 such programs.

The Veterans Yoga Project

This organization seeks to support veterans, their families and communities in recovering from and building resilience to prepare for challenges of all magnitudes. They accomplish this by teaching self-regulation skills through yoga, offering multi-day retreats, and by training yoga teachers and healthcare professionals to utilize yoga safely and effectively.

Yoga Classes through the Veterans Yoga Project are taught in conjunction with Vet Centers, VA hospitals, treatment centers, and other support organizations. Daily live streaming classes are also currently offered. A free practice guide is also available on their website that outlines 5 tools of Mindful Resilience Training:

  • Breath
  • Meditation
  • Mindful Movement
  • Guided Rest
  • Gratitude

Warriors at Ease

Founded by people involved in some of the VA’s earliest clinical studies on yoga and meditation, this organization focuses on training yoga teachers to support veterans and their families. They also offer yoga classes on military installations, in VA facilities, and community settings and retreats.

In-person classes and a virtual library of classes provide opportunities for yoga that are trauma-sensitive, evidence-based, and informed by military culture.

Exalted Warrior Foundation

Similar to the previous organizations, this one offers in-person and online yoga classes. These classes are adapted for disabled veterans to empower them in meeting the demands of physical and emotional recovery.

The Veterans Yoga Project, Warriors at Ease, and Exalted Warrior Foundation provide search tools to find local yoga classes. Yoga for Vets and Connected Warriors connect veterans with free classes at yoga studios universities, VA Medical Centers, and military installations globally.

Become a Yoga Teacher

Yoga teacher training programs involve 200 + hours of training and can be found by searching for a registered yoga school through Yoga Alliance. Many yoga teacher training programs are eligible for myCAA.

After completing 200 hours of yoga teacher training, training through the Veterans Yoga Project and Warriors at ease can be completed. This training prepares yoga teachers to teach veterans in multiple settings. Scholarships are available for both active duty and veterans for both Veterans Yoga Project and Warriors at East trainings.

Yoga Not Your Thing?

Have you tried it?

If you have and it’s still not your thing, you might be interested in Outdoor Recreation for Veterans. Outdoor recreation has less clinical research supporting its benefits, but still has potential to support mental health and multiple programs designed to support mental health among veterans.

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About the author

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Chelsea Bostelman is a registered nurse who stays busy with freelance writing, exploring Europe, and working on a graduate degree in nursing. She founded the Stuttgart Nurse Journal Club to provide underemployed nurses with free continuing education opportunities. A 10-year military spouse, she and her family spend their free time hiking, biking, and eating in southern Germany.